As West ignores Iran protests, Iranian dissidents gather for major rally
Several U.S. lawmakers, former top officials to attend 'Free Iran World Summit 2022'
As the U.S. and its Western allies remain largely silent about ongoing anti-government protests raging across Iran, the world's biggest Iranian resistance movement is set to hold its annual rally this weekend to call on the West to support the demonstrators and adopt a tougher policy toward Tehran’s Islamist regime.
The large, two-day gathering, titled "Free Iran World Summit 2022: Iran on the Brink of Change, Resistance Key to Victory," is being organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its associate group, the exiled People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK).
The event will be held in Ashraf 3, in Albania, home of the MEK, which the Iranian regime calls a "terrorist" organization.
Late last week, Iran's government placed sanctions on 61 more Americans for backing the MEK, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The list also included several members of the U.S. Congress from both political parties, such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Many of those blacklisted by Iran will either be attending or speaking virtually at the gathering this weekend. At least 35 members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, will participate in the event along with parliamentary delegations from around the world, according to organizers.
Several former senior officials, including heads of state, from the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere will also participate.
The high-profile gathering of Iranian dissidents and their supports comes as anti-government protests that have erupted across Iran in recent months continue to spread.
The rising cost of food and other staples last month sparked sporadic unrest in several Iranian provinces. The demonstrations quickly turned political, with protesters decrying the regime — in many cases calling for its downfall — in addition to the higher prices.
Iran's regime has responded to the recent demonstrations with a crackdown in a so-far-unsuccessful effort to quell the unrest.
Anti-regime protests have become common in Iran in recent years. In December 2019, for example, the U.S. government confirmed that the Iranian regime killed about 1,500 protesters as part of a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations the prior month.
In recent weeks, many protesters have called for the downfall of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority under Iran's theocratic government, according to reports and videos posted to social media.
Forces associated with the MEK have been playing a prominent role in the demonstrations. A network of Iranian dissidents known as the "Resistance Units" last month conducted an extensive operation, planned months in advance, in which they controlled and took down thousands of servers and security cameras across the capital city of Tehran.
Weeks later, an Iranian hacktivist group also reportedly affiliated with the MEK launched a large-scale cyber attack against Iran's government, compromising several networks and gaining intelligence on the regime's inner workings.
The Biden administration has largely been silent about the Iran protests, with the State Department issuing a brief statement in support of the Iranian people several days after the latest round of demonstrations began. Since then, there's been little public discussion of the protests from the administration or the governments of other Western nations.
"We should be … supporting those people in Iran just like [former President Ronald] Reagan supported those behind the Iron Curtain" during the Cold War," former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer told the "John Solomon Reports" podcast earlier this week. "Almost none of that happens in Iran. And they're protesting all over the country, and they get almost no support from the outside world."
Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, recently noted a pattern in Washington's response to the protests in Iran.
"Protests start, silence from U.S., then questions are raised why U.S. is silent, a belated statement is then released, with no follow-up," he tweeted. "That has to change."
The State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Outside Iran's borders, meanwhile, a Swedish court last week sentenced an Iranian ex-prison official to life imprisonment for taking part in regime atrocities targeting political prisoners in 1988.
That summer, then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the secret executions of tens of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom were members of the MEK. Raisi, the current president, played a prominent role in the violence that ensued, being part of a so-called "death committee" that carried out and oversaw many of the killings.
Organizers of this weekend's event say Iran's current situation shows how weak the regime is and makes the timing of the gathering all the more important.
"The summit stands out this year because it comes at a time when, at home, the regime is facing a multitude of incurable crises, facing an increasingly enraged citizenry that has openly called for the overthrow of the ruling theocracy in its entirety," said Ali Safavi, a member of NCRI's Foreign Affairs Committee. "Internationally, the mullahs have never been so isolated, with one prison official sentenced to life imprisonment in Sweden for his role in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, and a diplomat-terrorist jailed for 20 years in Belgium for a terror plot against the 2018 summit in Paris."
Safavi was referring to Assadolah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who last year was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium for plotting to bomb a NCRI rally in a suburb of Paris in 2018. He was accused of following orders from Iranian intelligence.
The Belgian Parliament this week approved a much-criticized prisoner swap treaty with Iran that could result in Assadi's release.
Siavosh Hossein / The Media Express
Before the thwarted bomb plot, the annual Iranian dissident rally was held in a Paris suburb, but it hasn't been since 2018. Last year, the event was moved to Ashraf 3.
"The things you have suffered in the name of freedom reminds us of what our country was founded to defend and secure so many years ago," Pompeo told the Iranian resistance during his visit. "We must continue to support the Iranian people as they fight for a freer and more democratic Iran in any way we can."
Pence had a similar message when he visited and expressed support for Iranians demonstrating in the streets.
"Every day it's clear [the protests] are growing stronger while the regime grows weaker," he said. "Today, teachers, workers, retirees are courageously taking to the streets. Protests that used to be isolated and sporadic quickly spread to multiple cities."
Both Pence and Pompeo served in the Trump administration and supported former President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and adopt a policy of exerting maximum economic pressure on the regime.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has pursued a different policy, making it a priority to revive the nuclear deal, which places temporary curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting large-scale sanctions on Iran.
Nuclear talks to revive the deal are currently stalled. An adviser to Iran's supreme leader said recently his country is technically capable of making a nuclear bomb but hasn't decided whether to build one.
Last month, a member of the Iranian resistance operating inside Iran told Just the News that the Iranian people have "lost all hope" in the Biden administration but will nonetheless overthrow the Islamist regime in control of their country with or without Western support.
Organizers of this weekend's rally want the West to "abandon a policy of appeasement" and support Iranian protesters demonstrating against the regime.
"The summit will express solidarity with the Iranian people and the resistance units as they step up their anti-regime campaign," said Safavi. "It will also urge the world community to abandon a policy of appeasement and recognize the right of the Iranian people and its organized resistance to bring down the medieval dictatorship and replace it with a democratically elected, pluralist republic."